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Joe Craven: Django Latino

Eric J. Iannelli By

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In addition to demonstrating his talent on an impressive range of string and percussion instruments, Joe Craven, a longtime member of the David Grisman Quintet, uses his second solo album to show off his skills as a translator. Django Latino is the familiar music of gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and his Hot Club co-leader and musical soulmate, violinist Stéphane Grappelli, seen "through a musical lens of Latin America"—festive and spicy where the originals are swinging and hot.

Inspired? This project redefines the word. It is remarkable to hear "Hungaria" recast as a Brazilian choro samba complete with the exuberant squeals of the cuica, or "Minor Swing" twisted into a Puerto Rican plena. Like many of the tracks on Django Latino , both of these sound like group efforts, but they are in fact veritable one-man shows made possible through "Pro-Tools free" studio overdubs. In this way Craven is able to deliver rousing mandola and violin solos on "Minor Swing," and turn "Hungaria" into a celebratory carnaval tune with the assistance of only two other musicians, namely Rick Montgomery on steel drums and erstwhile DGQ bassist Sam Bevan.

Reinhardt's famous "Nuages" becomes a Cuban danzón, revealing aspects of the original song, such as the dreamy, almost tropical languor, that make the transformation seem entirely natural. Bevan, flautist Matt Eakle, pianist John R. Burr and percussionist Kendrick Freeman are all part of the endeavor, making for one of the disc's larger studio ensembles, and the multifaceted Craven takes up multiple violins to create a rich but light and pillowy harmonic effect. Moving into the exotic genre of Nigerian-derived Haitian ibo, "Douce Ambiance" morphs into a moving, ambient chant sung by Freeman with original Creole lyrics. For songs like this one and the lesser-known ballad "Anouman," Reinhardt's last (arranged here as a Cuban bolero), the liner notes are invaluable. Burr and Eakle share the spotlight with Craven on "Anouman," and rightly so.

Another track of note is "Double Scotch/Artillerie Lourde," in the Colombian cumbia style. It's more than a little zany, featuring excerpts from a basic Spanish vocabulary lesson and Craven's young daughter Hattie urging everyone along. If proof were needed of Craven's sense of lightheartedness and whimsy, this would be enough. "Swing 39" is superbly rendered as stirring nuevo flamenco, drawing on several gypsy musical influences and instruments, while the amusing vocal refrain of the following "Swing 42" is "Ésta canción gitana es de Django/Su ritmo es Cubano," or "This gypsy song is by Django; its rhythm is Cuban."

What makes Django Latino so outstanding from start to finish, beyond its musicianship and originality, is the reverent humor of Craven and his equally ingenious collaborators. They subject Reinhardt and Grappelli's music to strange and playful mutations but never resort to mocking the original. Whether one is a Django obsessive or a casual fan of world music, this disc will not disappoint.

Visit Joe Craven on the web.


Track Listing: 1. Minor Swing (3:59) 2. Sweet Chorus (4:18) 3. Hungaria (4:09) 4. Nuages (4:05) 5. M

Personnel: Ara Anderson (trumpet, cornet); Sam Bevan (bass); John Burr (piano); Enrique Coria (guitar); Diane Craig (coro); Corey Craven (bells, bombo, coro); Joe Craven (mandolin, mandola, cavaqui

Title: Django Latino | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: CrowArt


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